From 128 players and eight tables, to just four surviving cueists and one central table, we are now at the business end of the 2017 Betway UK Championship.
It feels like a long time ago now since two-time champion Ding Junhui fell to world number 130 Leo Fernandez back on day one of the tournament, a scoreline that would ultimately set the tone for a tournament of surprises since as the seeds quickly tumbled.
Nevertheless, with three former champions and a recent ranking event winner through to the semi-finals, we are still left with an excellent line-up which only serves to demonstrate the strength in depth in the current field.
The afternoon session will see Ronnie O’Sullivan take on Stephen Maguire in an eye-catching clash between two players with six UK Championship titles between them. Five of those have been claimed by O’Sullivan, who will be looking to equal the record of six currently held by Steve Davis by taking the title this weekend.
O’Sullivan has looked vulnerable at times this week, never more so than when he trailed Thailand’s Sunny Akani 5-4 before the youngster was unfortunate to inadvertedly pot the blue as well as the green during an attempted clearance. Yesterday however he looked more like his normal self as he kicked off with back-to-back century breaks against Martin Gould and from there never really looked back.
He also has a strong head to head record against Maguire, although it was of course the Scot who came out on top during their encounter here back in 2004 on the way to his biggest career title to date. Maguire has a good record at this event having reached at least the last 16 every year since 2002 and he has continued that record this week, his best win coming against Liang Wenbo early in the tournament in a deciding frame. He also has the extra incentive of knowing that victory today would not only take him to the final, but also see him earn a place in January’s Masters in London.
Their encounter will be followed by a second semi-final between Shaun Murphy and Ryan Day, both tournament winners already this season. So far this week 2008 champion Murphy has looked strong, with Liam Highfield coming the closest to causing an upset in the early rounds. If Murphy can progress then an interesting final is guaranteed with either junior rival Maguire or recent Champion of Champions opponent O’Sullivan lying in wait.
For Day meanwhile the week has already been a positive one as his late night victory against Mark Joyce confirmed place at the Masters next month, while he had never progressed beyond the last 16 stage at this tournament before 2017 and now finds himself in the last four.
Day won their last encounter 4-2 back at the World Grand Prix last season, but it was Murphy who came out on top as a 9-8 winner in their only previous encounter at this tournament in 2010.
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